AS HUSBANDS GO, by Susan Isaacs. Scribner, 342 pp., $25.
Long Island floral designer Susie Gersten gives up the goods on herself on the second page of Susan Isaacs' latest whodunit. "[It] wouldn't have taken a psychologist to read my emotional pie chart and determine that the sum of my parts equaled one shallow (though contented) human being. One third of that happiness was attributable to the afterglow of the birthday present my husband had given me two weeks earlier, a Cartier Santos watch. Another third was courtesy of Lexapro (20 milligrams). A little over a sixth came from the pure sensual gratification of being wrapped in a tea-green Loro Piana cashmere bathrobe. The remaining sliver was bona fide maternal bliss."
Ah, but Susie's perfect world is about to take a hit even a closetful of designer clothes cannot soften - the sudden disappearance of her Park Avenue plastic surgeon husband, Jonah Gersten. By all accounts Jonah is a good man, deeply in love with his wife and their 4-year-old triplet sons. How could he possibly turn up stabbed to death in the Upper East Side apartment of a prostitute? An ugly prostitute for that matter, Susie observes in horror as she watches the perp walk on CNN.
It's way too much for her to grasp. Why would Jonah even visit the wide-nosed, walleyed Dorinda Dillon? If there's one thing Jonah cares about, it's how things look, and if there's one thing Susie's confident about, it's her beauty. She has "cheekbones like that of Mrs. Genghis Khan." She has pale green eyes so mesmerizing people can only attempt to capture them with words like "intriguing," "compelling," "gorgeous" and even "liquid jade mix'd with cream." And from the neck down, she's the Pilates Queen, a size eight "but more toward a six than a 10."
And that's not all. If her gorgeous, willowy 80-year-old lookalike grandmother is any indication, Susie will look exactly like this in 50 years. Grandma Ethel O'Shea, a Miami talk-show host, has been lost to the family since she ran off and abandoned Susie's "belligerently unattractive" mother decades ago. (The poor girl's looks seem to have been a big part of the reason.) Now Ethel and her girlfriend, a civil rights lawyer named Sparky, show up out of the blue while Susie is sitting shiva. In an 11th-hour surge of maternal instinct, Ethel becomes her granddaughter's partner in searching for answers to the questions that torment her.
Like what the hell was Jonah doing with Dorinda Dillon, that ho with hair of hay? Could he possibly have asked her to do something so perverted it drove her to stab him in the heart with the bathroom scissors?
The police say yes. The tabloids say yes. Rich, well-connected in-laws say yes. And when Susie says no, those in-laws use all their influence to stop her from pursuing the matter. They never liked Susie and never thought she was good enough for Jonah, anyway.
"What do you have that I don't?" Susie wonders when she looks at the Gersten clan. "A two-generation head start on my family in upward mobility and maybe an extra 25 IQ points?"
This is typical Susie - she knows she's a looker, but she puts down her intelligence all the time. In fact, the girl is much, much smarter than she thinks she is (if not much deeper). Driven by her love for Jonah and her unshakable belief that he must have been doing something other than you-know-what at Dorinda's that day, she will break this case wide open.
Got beach? "As Husbands Go" is perfectly timed to accompany you on a meaningless afternoon of summer pleasure. If it had been up to Susie Gersten, it surely would come packaged with a tube of the world's most elite designer sunscreen, something with an intimidating price tag and an unpronounceable brand name.